Next Tuesday, Americans across the country will head to the polls for the next midterm elections. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 36 seats in the Senate, and scores of other state and local seats are up for re-election. Currently, the Democratic Party holds 220 seats in the House, compared to 211 for the Republican Party, and the Senate is split 50-50 between the two.
This year’s election is notable for recent significant trends among enthusiasm, the rise of new issues and changes in voting patterns among different demographic groups. However, among all this change, the foundations of midterm electoral politics remain largely the same — the party in power will lose seats, just as they have in almost every previous midterm.
The forthcoming elections are polling with record-setting enthusiasm levels for a midterm election year. Usually, the lack of a top-ballot presidential candidate results in lower levels of voting among every group in the country. Historically, dissatisfaction with the party in power leads to the opposing party being swept into Congress.
Since 1934, only once — in 2002 — has a party maintained unified power following a midterm. However, the large number of polarizing issues that are present in this election — including inflation, abortion and climate change — have galvanized voter turnout in a way rarely seen in the United States. Much of this enthusiasm would seemingly benefit the Democrats; indeed,
the polling average over the summer showed Democrats either running even or ahead of Republicans.
The Dobbs v. Jackson decision in August was certainly the primary catalyst of this surge, as abortion is one of the most galvanizing issues among Democratic voters. However, as the election has approached, much of this lead for Democrats has faded, and rightly so. The Democratic message is simply not speaking to the average American.
The reasons for the recent surge of Republican support as the election approaches can be attributed to a simple quote: “It’s the economy, stupid.” This quip, which was first articulated by the Clinton campaign in 1992 (a successful campaign, I might add), demonstrates one of the most important characteristics of the American electorate — economic issues are king.
Indeed, polls have shown that economic issues are the chief concern among 76% of voters, and it bodes well for Republicans; their candidates lead the polls on nearly all the issues voters care about most — inflation, the economy and crime. Democrats, on the other hand, have focused entirely on abortion and have seemingly nothing to say on other issues.
In addition, much of this abortion messaging has had much less effect in blue states. The Dobbs decision simply returns the matter to the states, and many of them will continue to have legal abortion regardless of who is elected. This has predictably led to a surge in support for the Republican party, which has solidified many voting shifts among different groups, and has moved many traditionally Democratic seats into the competitive zone.
The surge in Republican support among Hispanic Americans that began during the 2020 election has seemingly solidified, as support from this group has buoyed many Republican candidates in majority Hispanic American districts and states. Independent identifying women, who delivered the Democrats congress in 2018, have also turned toward the Republicans as crime has surged across the country.
These trends indicate that Democrats will be in for a bruising on Election Day. Many of the most competitive seats in Congress are predicted to be held or won by Republicans, and traditionally solid Democratic Senate seats have come into play. Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Ted Budd in North Carolina are running away with elections to hold Republican seats; Adam Laxalt in Nevada and Herschel Walker in Georgia look poised to flip swing seats red; and even underdogs in Colorado, New Hampshire, Arizona and Washington have put comfortable incumbents on the defensive.
Perhaps the best example of just how brutal election night could be comes from deep blue New York, where Republican Lee Zeldin is now within 4 points of defeating incumbent Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul. Joe Biden won New York by 23 points. Republicans have simply been better with messaging regarding the issues voters care about most, and they will pay dearly for not paying more attention.
Democrats have bet it all and gambled with the economy. However, it will be Republicans who win big.